in the midst of on-going visa strife, i thought i would talk a little about the reasons why i like living in the czech republic. it’s bittersweet to post this today because i’m having a pretty low day in terms of my optimism. when no one can give you any definitive answers whether or not what you’ve submitted in your visa reapplication is good enough, it makes my mind do crazy things. i’m feeling a little numb, to be quite honest. what i wouldn’t give to have another visa card like the one (above) from a couple years ago. that funny time that i was given a large box of pork products the same morning i went to the immigration office; fragrant, spicy whiffs of sausages wafting out of its cardboard confines, perhaps further announcing my “czechness”, or at least willingness to give it a go.
but, i still want to talk about why i have chosen to live here for over five years and why i hope to keep living here. so back to the topic of my beautiful host country – i’ve realized that i don’t live here for only one of these reasons, but they all come together and meld in a great life situation. here are some of the reasons that have kept us here that long… and reasons why i hope we can continue living out our czechpat dreams.
1) it’s beautiful. it’s historical. it’s quintessentially european.
after one two many times of taking the bus to and from leary way nw, sitting at the bus stop next to the ugliest hunk of concrete bridge you have ever seen, i was starved for some kind of architectural beauty. that someone created a building or bridge and had aesthetic in mind. most of the time, that is so very true here! i love walking to work under the covered typical czech arcades (that shield you from the rain if it happens to be one of the rare rainy days). i love every.single.time. i walk by the square or sit there to have an ice cream, read a book, or meet a friend. here in the city center, everything is old, historical and magical. not to mention popping up to prague and then you get into a whole ‘nother category of wonder. charles bridge. powder tower. the towers on the mala strana side. should i go on, or… ? i also happen to be a fan of cobblestones, despite how damn hard they are to walk on in heels.
2) our flat
it is everything i had hoped for! and we have lovely neighbors, to boot.
3) the location within europe
i love living in the center of europe. germany to the west, austria to the south, poland to the east. three countries i can say i love. i don’t hate it. it is also a very naturally beautiful country. the way from budejovice to krumlov gets me every time and i hate when i see tourists pulling down the shades on the bus or train. it’s like “y’all! look out the window! are you kidding me?”
4) the international aspect
although seattle is a major american city, it still quite didn’t have enough of the international flavor i was craving. they had one language school; not reasonably priced. here, i hear different languages every day, all around me. it is a perfect place to be based to learn languages and practice them! working at a language school also has it’s perks as i’ve also been a satisfied customer there for years, as well as a teacher. part of this is just living in europe, i think, a melting pot of so many different cultures.
5) the czech work-life balance
when i moved here, i diligently tried to take as many lessons on as possible and making a higher income was always the goal. it eventually got to a point where i was bending over backwards zipping off to the next class when everyone around me seemed super chill. although business hours in in the czech republic are similar as those i’m used to in the states, government offices, for example close around noon on fridays and many other businesses follow suit. i caught on way too late that it seems as though nobody works past three o’clock on a friday, and i was definitely working until six! (and was made fun of for doing so).
in addition, here in south bohemia it’s clear to me that people work to live and not live to work. nobody ever really talks about their jobs in social situations to the point where sometimes i have to ask what it is that they actually do for work again. there is not much talk about working up the career ladder – this type of ladder seems to not exist in these southern regions, perhaps. everyone is constantly headed out on excursions hiking, biking, camping, out to the chalupa…. it was a life-style shift for sure, but one i can definitely get into.
6) czech people are so gosh darn lovely
i’m to the point now where i’m rolling my eyes when i see new expats complaining about the unfriendliness of czech people. i try to remember that i once was put off by the lack of ‘hello’s and eye-contact on the sidewalks… but after this ceased bothering me, i realized this phenomenon occurs mostly only in the city center where people feel “on their guard”. out in the village or forest, everyone greets each other. i know this is just going to sound like ‘gushing’ but never in my life have i met people so genuinely kind, generous, and hospitable to us as people i’ve met in the czech republic.
for anyone new to the country, i would just say: hold on. meet people. don’t judge too quickly.
7) my job
i have no idea why this is so far down on the list, because job satisfaction is pretty darn important to us. i love being a freelancer. i love helping my students and having a social job where i also get to learn a lot about life in the czech republic, cool local secrets, and meet some interesting characters. i’ve taught at the hospital, at the university, at the transit company, the local motor plant, in my own house. i love working with both children and adults alike, and that everyday is different. i’m not salaried so if i’m not working, there’s nothing coming in, but most months of the school year this works out alright for me.
8) the czech mentality
the longer i live here, the more i realize how czech ideals seem to fit in well with my own. unlike strict germany, things are considerably loosened up here in the czech republic. jay-walking, for example (which, full disclosure, i did not learn what this actually was until i was 18 years old – small town life) is not legal but it is, essentially, the rule. czech people see no sense in going out of their way to an inconvenient crosswalk when you can just skip across the road easily, and this is totally normal. i can vibe with that.
i like the relaxed attitude to dress – almost anything goes, within reason. i now say ‘dobrou chut’ before i share a meal with others and you simply must ‘na zdravi’ before drinking a beer or it feels like something pressing and bad will befall you. i love how much people here love nature and being in the forest or countryside. people know insanely a lot about plants here. public urination is not frowned upon … when you get used to it, it seems so much more freeing! there is such a tolerance and “live and let live” vibe that i’ve come to really adopt and accept.
it is so much more a regular part of my life than it used to be, which of course, is a wonderful thing. i once said that i’ll leave europe once i feel like i’ve got my fill, but you can imagine how that’s going….
10) the teacher’s school year
i adore being on the school system schedule. it always felt right to me. september as the true “new year”, almost two weeks in december reserved for festivities with family and friends, the end of the year in june and time to go back to visit home in the united states or travel? it is unleaveable. i think alex and i might have to teach in the united states upon our return (when we go) because it just suits us so well!
okay, i do have one bonus point!
11) the social system
it feels damn good to know that if something happens and somebody gets hurt or needs hospitalization or care for any reason, the czech republic has my back. that is more than i can say for my home country which has great care, sure, but only if you have the dough to back it up. i truly think that more people can live better here than they can in my home country. when people ask me, i always tell them: “the united states is a wonderful place to live. IF YOU HAVE MONEY”. graduating into the recession and unable to find a job ten years ago, this was a huge worry for me. i always wanted to live in europe anyway, recession or no, but the fact that we feel so well taken care of here was something i absolutely did not expect, but something that is really important to me. i believe in a society where all people, regardless of income, have the right to a good education and high-quality healthcare. as i have found myself in that sort of situation, you might see how i wouldn’t want to leave it, exactly.
and there you have it, friends. so this is basically why i’m not in the united states right now and haven’t been for some odd years.
will we go back to the states? well, guys, the answer is yes. but…
i do very much hope that will be on my own terms – when we feel we are ready to. the united states will always be our home and i am deeply in love with my island hometown. but until then…. keep your fingers crossed for me.
ps, you might like 30 ways you know you’re from south bohemia, czech republic or indian summer – an account of a gorgeous autumn from a few years ago and how we spent it.